One hour, one task

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This blog from the Harvard Business Review caught my eye as I siphoned through my backlog of emails, google reader feeds, and other assorted outlets where I receive information.  I had been in a bit of a slump lately, unable to focus, going haywire on different things, sitting/standing in front of my computer for several hours with little to show for it.  It was frustrating because there were days when I could (and can) get ‘in the zone’ for hours and other days where anything shiny catches my eye and leads me towards it.  I had done well focusing my time since January, but this slump seems to have hit pretty hard.  It might also be due to the fact that now that data collection is done and students will  soon leave for summer, the writing begins.  Writing is my least favorite part….I do it begrudgingly and like how it turns out in the end, it’s just getting there that’s tough for me!

As a new faculty, we sometimes chalk it up to writers block or just an ‘off’ day, but some of the trouble may come because we’re trying to do too much at once.  Trying to answer everyone’s emails between student meetings mixed with article searching and perusing the latest RFP’s from different funding agencies has got me all tied up. Mashable has a nice infographic on what we waste our time on. Is this the nature of work now? Multi-tasking even though sound research says our brains really aren’t equipped to be able to do it for long periods of time? The three points below were taken from the blog post to serve as a gentle reminder of how we can make our work fit into the biology of how we work.

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. I have started the day with email replies and then whatever task I dread the most.  I work best in the mornings and find it prudent to do the thing I dread the most first so when my attention wains later in the day, I can work on other less time sensitive or heavy thought activities.

2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. I have cut way back on email at night. For good reason and for selfish reasons. Unless it truly is urgent or an emergency, it can wait. I have shut off email on weekends and separated what email account gets business vs. research vs. pleasure/life messages.

3. Encourage renewal. Having the gym at my disposal, along with miles of great trails, and other activities that are super affordable or free is a real plus to working on a college campus.

4. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you’re off, you’re truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you’ll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

While I don’t agree  with everything in the blog from HBR, it did make one thing crystal clear: the pace was catching up with me.  I changed up my routine a bit for a change of scenery and have split my time between my work office and home office so I can get things done in uninterrupted amounts of time.  One of the luxuries of my job is that no one cares where I get the work done, as long as it gets done.

I also gave myself time limits and chunked off one hour to look for articles, then another for skimming articles, and so on.  Obviously some things require more than one hour at a time, but the brain dictated the schedule. Of the list presented, the only one I haven’t gotten to yet is the vacation…hopefully soon!

How do you parse out your time as a new faculty?  What do you wish you could be doing to be more efficient with your time?  What advice would you share with someone about to begin their first job?

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